Helen Halpenny, Lanark County Master Gardeners group

Like most gardeners, I would like to have a flower garden brimming with colour throughout the gardening season. No plant I know of begins blooming and continues all summer but some can come close to answering the call. I am talking about Zinnias.

Zinnia plants purchased from nurseries in mid-May will begin the show. They can also be started indoors  4-6 weeks before the last frost if you can provide good light, but be careful when transplanting to keep root disturbance to a minimum. Because they are fast growers they can also be seeded directly in the garden after danger of frost, but these will not begin to bloom until mid-summer.

Zinnias are native to the southwest U.S. right through to Chile with a major concentration in Mexico. Seeds taken to Europe in the 18th century were named for Johann Zinn. Plant breeders began to use natural selection to develop new colours, shapes and sizes, and zinnias became widely used as a garden flower. Further development of the modern zinnia varieties with their large flat-topped flowers took place in the U.S.

Now we have perfectly formed symmetrical double, semi-double and single flowers with unique stripes, solid colours and bi-colours. Some varieties such as ‘Persian carpet’ are bushy and grow about 10 inches high, making a nice edging plant.’ ‘Zahara’ and  is a 12” single variety. Others like ‘Benary Giants’ are tall and produce 4” blooms which are excellent for the cutting garden. ‘Cut and Come’ is another favourite with its fully double 2” blooms. They have long stems and are perfect for arranging. They will last more than a week in an arrangement.

The ‘Profusion’ series are excellent bedding plants. The 2” blooms literally cover the plant. “Profusion red’ has won the AAS & Fleuroselect awards, and it is a favourite of mine. Current plant breeding is introducing new colours and colour blends that are very enticing. I counted  14 varieties in one seed catalogue.

All zinnias love sun — and lots of it.  They are fairly drought tolerant and thrive in ordinary garden soil rich in humus. They benefit from deadheading and will continue to bloom until frost, if the old blooms are removed. Zinnias need some space and good air circulation to perform their best.

I cannot think of another annual that will give such vibrant colour over a long blooming time. (Butterflies love them too.)